Even though the weather is growing warmer, sunnier, and increasing everyone's happy dispositions, I have found myself mulling over the cold, hard facts of the child protection system in our state. A few weeks ago, the Office of Performance Evaluation (OPE) presented on their investigation into the child welfare system in Idaho. They uncovered some new information but the simple bottom line is: the system needs improvement. We couldn't agree more, and we include ourselves in that evaluation.
The report offers input from the courts, foster parents, Guardians ad Litem, and the Department of Health and Welfare. The outlook is not great. As we see an increase in kids involved in the child protection system, we also see a decrease in the number of available foster homes (8% decrease between 2014-2017), as well as the continued struggle to find volunteer Guardians for each case. While the report did not go into the CASA program in-depth, it did highlight one area that I found interesting. Of the individuals surveyed by OPE, 77% of Guardians ad Litem said that CASA is an effective source of accountability to the court with 41% of foster parents and 26% of case workers agreeing with that statement.
Those percentages don't worry me. Our Guardians are in court to represent the best interests of children; not the best interests of the biological parents, the foster parents, or the Department of Health and Welfare. Our amazing volunteers work in professional collaboration with each of these groups and value the input of each party to the case, but we are there to present information on behalf of the children.
A few of the recommendations from OPE include; 1) establish a legislative working group to monitor and evaluate the child welfare system, 2) the Department of Health and Welfare should bring in a consultant to assess the organization's culture and address gaps between expectations and practice, and 3) create a comprehensive plan to increase the number of foster homes through recruitment and retention. As a side note, the evaluators also recommended an independent investigation into the CASA programs around the state. Our team here welcomes any audit, investigation, or evaluation that makes us a more effective and efficient program to serve children and families.
In the meantime, we will continue to help children find a healthy home by recruiting 120 more volunteer Guardians for our CASA program or sending folks to PRIDE training to learn how to become a foster home.
If you would like to read the entire OPE report, all 154 pages can be found through this link: https://legislature.idaho.gov/wp-content/uploads/OPE/Reports/r1701.pdf.
This month brings visions of hearts, sweethearts, secret valentines and roses. While the team at Family Advocates wishes you, and your loved ones, a warm and loving month, we are faced with the harsh reality of the journey of our children and families.
Did you know that the majority of our families, and all of our kids in CASA, have an Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) score of over 7? What does that mean? It means these folks have faced trauma like physical, emotional, sexual and mental abuse. It means that these brave individuals may adopt risky health behaviors, be susceptible to disease and disability, and may even experience an early death due to the unavoidable trauma in their early lives. (Find out more about ACEs here)
What does ACEs have to with cupid?! For many of the people in our community who have been exposed to violence in their childhood, it means that relationships may look differently. It means that they may have social and emotional barriers to address before a bond can be formed. It means that they may never have seen what a positive adult relationship looked like. That is where each of our programs comes into play. Our CASA program provides a volunteer Guardian ad Litem to advocate on behalf of the children they represent. Our family strengthening programs provide safe, healthy, and nurturing spaces for parents and children to heal. Our mission is to see families and children build or find a loving home.
This month, we ask that you think of your loved ones. That you buy them that bouquet. That you shower your family with affection. Make these loving gestures in solidarity for the individuals who haven't had the opportunity to feel this unadulterated love. And, of course, help us continue to support them on their journey to feeling loved.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
BOISE, ID—Family Advocates has been named the winner of the 2017 In Cahoots partnership program by DaviesMoore. In Cahoots is the Boise ad agency's premier charitable program, offering pro bono marketing services to local nonprofit organizations. Through the partnership, we hope to boost volunteer recruitment so we can expand our efforts to enrich the lives of children who have been victims of abuse or neglect.
"We have some specific goals to reach, and we know DaviesMoore has the creative talent and business acumen to help us get there," Jaime Hansen, the Executive Director for Family Advocates, said. "This partnership will allow our 39-year-old organization to help protect more children, strengthen more families, and literally change thousands of lives for the better."
Hansen said the main goal is to improve the organization's brand recognition so it can recruit up to 160 additional volunteers across its four programs. Family Advocates currently manages the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), Youth Enhancement Program (YEP!), Parents Anonymous, and BabySteps.
"Family Advocates has been strengthening families and positively impacting the lives of children in Idaho for decades," Edward Moore, founding partner and CEO of DaviesMoore, said. "This is truly a partnership because we're helping them make the community in which we work and live, a better place to work and live."
About Family Advocates
Family Advocates is a private, independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit agency founded in 1978 by two foster parents who saw the need for advocacy for children. Our mission is to help end child abuse in Idaho. We serve 10 counties across Idaho and help nearly 1,000 children and families per year.
DaviesMoore is Idaho's most established and storied ad agency, and one of the oldest agencies in the Northwest. From public utilities and government agencies to automobile dealers and software companies, there's virtually no industry that hasn't been tapped by our creativity and marketing know-how.
Contact: Jaime Hansen, Family Advocates Executive Director: (208) 345-3344
The team has been busy collecting donations like toiletries, coats, socks, and school supplies for the children in our care. This month our office has been overflowing with cuddly, warm (homemade!) blankets and the ‘every-child-has-to-have-them’ toothbrush. When I write ‘overflowing,’ I mean it. Boxes and boxes have come in from Treasure Valley businesses and families—for days on end. I have been astonished with the volume. This year, every child was sponsored and we have hundreds of backpacks filling our construction-zone room. It is a beautiful sight. Volunteers will play Santa and help each child that has experienced the trauma of abuse, neglect and abandonment this year have a warmer and brighter future.
This is one glimpse in to our year-round efforts to help families right in our community. Frankly, the Family Advocates’ team need this time of year as much as the children do. Imagine being a part of the most horrific stories day in, day out. Of course you can imagine it, you are a supporter of Family Advocates for this very reason! Every day the staff help families gain access to stable housing, encourage parents to stay clean, and assist volunteers in representing a child’s future in the courtroom. For our volunteers and staff, this time of year is an opportunity to give a material representation that everything will be ok. That the child is loved. That the community is here to support them.
Isn’t that what this time of year is for?
Why does all great conversation and community center around food? People gather in kitchens, hover over the appetizer table, and invite loved ones over to share a meal—to share what they have with those they care for. That feeling you get after feeding your stomach and soul with friends and family is how our Parents Anonymous program thrives.
Last week, I had the joy of serving the Thanksgiving meal for Parents Anonymous participants alongside other staff and service learning students. As a recovering foodservice employee, I braced myself for flashbacks of annoyed customers and sneezy children on the buffet line. I couldn't have been more wrong.
With a sense of belonging and purpose, our participants came through the food line and took modest amounts of food, wanting to be sure those behind them had enough to eat. The children said "please" and "thank you" with every portion and put my manners to shame. The parents, grateful for the opportunity to eat, relax and talk about real issues with their peers, sat together and leaned on one another for support. I couldn't look away.
The love and support that I felt at Parents Anonymous that day was spurred by my love of good food but solidified by the compassion of the participants around me. They helped me understand that just a little bit of food can go a very long way in making people feel safe and loved. This week, I will get to sit beside my family and friends knowing why I am thankful and my hope is for every one of you to feel the same. Thank you for supporting our programs and for making lives, right here in the Treasure Valley, happier and healthier every day.
Driving out to Caldwell with my bag of construction paper, scissors, tape, pins, and stickers, the excitement boils in my heart with anticipation that the children are going to make "I can" pins. "I can tie my shoes," "I can sing," and "I can draw" are examples of what the children can write on their pins to attach to their shirts and show off to their friends and parents. The 45 min drive is somewhat relaxing as I imagine what children will be in the Youth Enhancement Program (YEP!) today.
Family Advocates' YEP! Program includes the children of parents who participate in Baby Steps and Parents Anonymous. On Wednesdays, Baby Steps and Parents Anonymous are located at Caldwell Church of Christ which is a medium sized church just large enough for a nursery, children's rooms, and a teen youth room. YEP! currently uses the nursey and teen room for activities but with more workers could fill every room.
Baby Steps participants start trickling in the front door about 1pm and class starts promptly at 1:15. Since school is in session during Baby Steps, the YEP! activities are geared for 0-5 year olds. Attendance is fluid and an exact number of how many children will arrive is never certain. Today, 3 children arrive ages 3 weeks, 1 ½ years, and 5 years old. The 3 week old remains with her mother. The two other children (siblings) look hesitantly at me as I wave them into the nursery after saying "Hi" to Mom. Tony, the five-year-old, is dressed in a superman costume for his third week in a row. His sister has a head full of curly black hair and a sly smile because she has brought a snack with her, hiding it behind her as she looks at me. I reminded her about the baby Elsa doll in the Nursey and she gave me a huge smile. Two weeks before she did not want to go to the nursery and she sat and cried for a good 5 minutes and periodically through the rest of the hour and a half. She was happy today which resulted from having a familiar face and an encouraging spirit. Tony dashed around the room in his superman costume and answered questions about his day. When time came to work on the activity Tony helped trace his round pin on the construction paper which he cut out and said confidently that he could sing. Together we spelled "I can sing" and he decorated and taped his circle to his "I can" pin which he pinned under his costume. For positive feedback, I proclaimed, "Look at all that blue, how creative of you."
Every YEP! group ends with clean up and reading a story. Tony and his sister sat and listened to the ABC Story but when their mom came to pick them up Tony had wanted to read The Jungle Book and demanded to take the book home with him. Luckily, he had a copy at home and I assured him we could read it next time he came to group. Mom and I exchanged goodbyes and I let her know that we had fun.
For the next two hours, my coworkers and I finish paperwork and collaborate on what needs to be done for the following week. At 5pm, we start preparing for Parents Anonymous, which is also on Wednesdays at Church of Christ in Caldwell.
At Parents Anonymous, families enjoy a meal together before the group breaks, separating the children from the parents. Service Learners from Boise State and College of Western Idaho are split up to help in different groups. Two Service Learners assistance with the YEP! program. They start with circle time and say their name and one thing they like about the program or what activity they enjoy. They play monopoly for about 15 minutes then work on a few "I can" pins.
An 11-year old boy named Tim who is diagnosed with autism and has the mentality of a 7 year old arrived for his first time and a little late. He was terrified! Tim did not want to be in group but another older boy introduced himself and took him under his wing inviting him to Chutes and Ladders instead of Monopoly. Tim eased in and seemed comfortable the rest of the evening. YEP! program is focused on developing leaders and Tim benefited from the older boy taking a lead and being kind that night. The Service Learners are encouraged to tell parents of any positive behavior they observe through the evening and have an opportunity to debrief at the end of group to talk about any challenges and observations. The youth are learning to have fun during group and be a positive influence on others. As a whole the day was a success!
This blog post was written by our YEP! Program Director, Josie Hurley.
Family Advocates is pleased to announce the transition of its Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program to the Third Judicial District Guardian ad Litem Program, a new nonprofit formed on January 14, 2016. CASA volunteer guardians ad litem advocate for the best interests of abandoned, abused and neglected children in Idaho's child protection system.
The two non-profits have worked together for roughly eight months to facilitate the transition which is slated to occur on November 1st, 2016. Both agencies are looking forward to the growth of the CASA program in the Nampa-Caldwell area.
On August 16, 2013, Family Advocates, the provider of CASA guardian ad litem services in the Fourth Judicial District, assumed responsibility for providing CASA guardian ad litem services in Third Judicial District at the request of Children's Voices, the previous provider of those services.
Last fiscal year, courts in ten southern Idaho counties referred 1,091 children to the Family Advocates' CASA program—about half of those cases were originated in the Third Judicial District. The volunteer Guardians ad litem representing the children in those cases are dedicated people from the community that are trained and supported by the staff of the nonprofit.
Family Advocates Executive Director, Jaime Hansen, says "The board, staff, and volunteers of Family Advocates wishes the Third Judicial District Guardian ad Litem Program well and looks forward to working alongside them. We believe that this collaboration will result in more volunteers recruited, more opportunities for shared training, and the ability to share resources across county lines. The Third Judicial District Guardian ad Litem Program is made up of dedicated and experienced staff and we are happy to start off with such a strong relationship."
If you would like to learn more about how to donate or volunteer in the Fourth Judicial District with Family Advocates, please visit our website at; www.strongandsafe.org. Family Advocates is a Boise-based nonprofit that has 38 years of success offering family strengthening programs. If you would like to donate or volunteer with the Third Judicial District Guardian ad Litem Program, please contact Nikki Kiesel at; email@example.com.
We were so honored for the opportunity to partner with Scentsy for the 2016 Rock-a-Thon. Thank you to all of the 4 am rock stars, the afternoon rockers, and the teeter-totter joy makers! With the support and hard work of the Scentsy employees and the community fundraisers (like our own Tia!), Family Advocates secured a total of $251,441 and enough in-kind items to fuel our families for months. This money will be re-invested into our programs to protect kids and strengthen the families we serve.
Thank you. We are humbled by your generosity and empathy for people in our community. Now excuse us while we shed tears of joy.
Here's a recap (thank you Graphic Shooters!):
*Originally printed in the Guest Opinion Section of the Idaho Statesman*
yourself as a toddler. Imagine you are being carried away from your home in
nothing but a diaper on a cold January night by a uniformed police officer, a
stranger to you. Imagine someone in the home scrambling to throw some clothing
or a teddy bear into a garbage sack to send along with you.
Imagine your confusion and fear.
And then imagine that someone steps forward on your behalf, someone who cares
only about you and what’s best for you.
That’s the role volunteer Guardians ad Litem (GALs for short) play in Idaho.
They are part of the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program that
began in Ada County in 1989. At that time there were 15 cases of child abuse
and neglect in the county, and 15 volunteer GALs acted as the eyes and ears of
the court on behalf of the child’s best interests.
Family Advocates has been operating the CASA program in Ada County since its
inception. That is when the Junior League, the Boise Bar Association and Family
Advocates received permission from the Honorable Richard Grant, Juvenile
Magistrate, to initiate a pilot Guardian ad Litem program in Ada County, with
the stipulation that volunteer legal counsel be included in test cases.
In 1982, the CASA program officially accepted its first child protection
referral. In 1986, Family Advocates, with attorney Eric Haff, took an active
role in working with legislators to revise the Child Protection Act to clearly
define the role of a Guardian ad Litem (GAL), making the GAL a party to the
legal action and gaining approval for state funding.
As a result, Idaho law requires that a volunteer must be assigned as the
Guardian ad Litem in a child abuse and neglect case for children under 12 years
of age. Our CASA program receives funding based on that stipulation. However,
Family Advocates does not have enough people to advocate for the child’s best
interest in any of our counties. We need volunteers just like you.
Guardians come from many walks of life. Teachers, physicists, tow truck
drivers, attorneys are just a few of our volunteers. Requirements to become a
GAL are care, compassion, and time. The Family Advocates’ trained staff provide
the rest. You too can help children in your neighborhood.
Since the 1980s we have seen a year-over-year growth in cases of child abuse in
the counties where we offer volunteer support. In Ada County, that number has
soared to 231 this calendar year alone. Ada County is only one county we serve.
To keep up, we need more volunteers to be the voice of logic, reason, and
advocacy in the court rooms on behalf of children who often cannot speak for
Children’s lives are at stake. To learn more about saving those lives, visit www.strongandsafe.org
and consider volunteering your time for this most important program.
Every day we hear the horrific tales of abuse and neglect that our kids and parents suffered at such a tender age. Not only are these stories so difficult for the children who live it, it can also weigh down volunteers, staff and the board members that are involved. Through the work that they do at Family Advocates, you will often hear about the magnitude of children that are abused and neglected, the volume of vulnerable youth that are exposed to extreme conditions, and what you can do to help.
As we gear up for our volunteer appreciation event, I want to celebrate those that do. Family Advocates is a volunteer-driven organization. How else would be we be able to work with thousands of kids and parents seeking support?! Our staff is small. I mean REALLY small. The hundreds of volunteers that provide direct services through Home Visiting, CASA, Parents Anonymous and BabySteps save people's lives. And I'm not being just dramatic here. We've all heard the tales.
Some of our volunteers would be embarassed if I called them out by name but, without them, we would never be able to replicate our services-financially or with equal passion in which they serve.
Thank you volunteers. Thank you for protecting kiddos, saving lives, keeping families together and helping people succeed.
And thank you to staff who recruit them, train them, and help them be the best at their job.
In case you haven't noticed, this team rocks. If you would like to learn more about volunteering with Family Advocates, attend our next volunteer orientation. More information can be found on our calendar.